On a daily basis the media gives us no shortage of stories about people who decide to bend or outright break the rules to get away, get ahead or get something for nothing.
We’ve likewise seen lots of movies in which protagonists take the law into their own hands to right a wrong that society has let slip through the cracks. The exercises in this month’s issue all revolve around crooks, capers, and quirky laws and how they can be used to better understand structure, pacing and character development in feature screenplays and shorts. For younger students who haven’t yet mastered the basics of script structure, these lesson ideas lend themselves to extemporaneous storytelling and role-playing skits. Older students are encouraged to draft scenes into correctly formatted screenplays as well as film them for peer review.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. What is your interpretation of the phrase, “Rules are meant to be broken”?
2. Identify three rules that you believe should never be broken under any circumstances.
3. Identify three rules that you view more as guidelines that can be adjusted to fit specific circumstances.
4. What is the dumbest consumer warning you have ever seen on an appliance? (Example: “Do not iron clothes while wearing them.”) Why do these warnings exist?
5. What is the most unreasonable “house rule” that your parents have laid down? Have you ever broken it?
6. What rule would you most like to have your siblings forced to obey?
7. If you had the power to introduce, fund, enact and enforce one law for the state in which you live, what would it be and why?
GOING MY WAY?
Along Interstate 10 near Phoenix, Arizona is a sign that cautions motorists against stopping for hitchhikers. While picking up roadside strangers is never a good practice to begin with, the irony is that it’s displayed on the same sign as the words STATE PRISON.
Your assignment: Write a two page comedic scene in which two men dressed as prison guards try to convince a driver that someone just stole their car on the way to work. Perhaps their story might be more convincing if their uniforms actually fit.
IT’S THE LAW!
Throughout history, many laws have arisen in response to public disturbances that society didn’t want to see repeated. In the Wild West, for instance, hotel guests were prohibited from hiding cows in their rooms or throwing their beds out the window. Others – such as a Baltimore ban against taking a lion to the movies with you - were drafted to address health, safety and hygiene issues. Last but not least are laws governing national preparedness. Across the pond, for example, British males over the age of 14 were once required by the monarchy to engage in clergy-supervised longbow practice for two hours a week.
But what about some of the following laws that make absolutely no sense and yet have never been repealed?
• School teachers who bob their hair are ineligible for a raise. (Arkansas)
• Owners of flamingos cannot bring them into a barbershop. (Alaska)
• It is illegal to drive a camel on the highway. (Nevada)
• It is against the law to sleep in a cheese factory. ((South Dakota)
• Puppet shows for profit violate the Act to Prevent Certain Immoral Practices. (Indiana)
• It is illegal to sing in public wearing a bathing suit. (Florida)
• A person cannot cross state lines with a duck on his head. (Minnesota)
• Women may not drive in a housecoat. (California)
• It’s unlawful to milk another person’s cow. (Texas)
Your assignment: Choose one of the silly laws from the above list and construct a one-page synopsis of a film in which the protagonist willfully violates the law and must defend his/her actions in court.
ALL THAT GLITTERS
Can you imagine being surrounded by priceless gems 60 hours a week but not being able to pocket a few as souvenirs? Imagine the frustration of the Seven Dwarves as they go off to the mines every day, work for minimum wage, have no workers’ compensation employment benefits, must share the same small cottage to save expenses, and haven’t taken a vacation in ever so long.
Your assignment: A producer has hired you to do a remake of Ocean’s Eleven starring Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy and Snow White. Identify the role that each of these characters will fulfill in the ultimate mine theft caper, then compose a two-page movie treatment that takes us from start to finish.
In 1911, an intrepid thief lifted one of the world’s most famous paintings right off the wall of The Louvre. Although the theft wasn’t discovered until the next day, it quickly plunged the art world into a tizzy with speculations that it had been an insider job. During the two years it took for the painting to finally reappear - and be confirmed as the original by Leonardo da Vinci- galleries initiated steps to beef up their security so as not to allow other priceless treasures to fall into the wrong hands.
Your assignment: Like the perpetrator behind the Mona Lisa heist, the protagonist of your film has a noble reason for stealing a rare piece of artwork from a prestigious museum. Write a two-page scene in which he/she explains to his/her accomplices why this dangerous mission cannot afford to fail.
In Small Time Crooks (2000), a group of bumbling criminals led by Woody Allen purchase a storefront with the idea of industriously tunneling their way through the basement and into a neighborhood bank. Little do they realize that the cookie shop they’ve set up as a temporary cover for their digging could strike a yummy chord with local residents – including the police – and start bringing in more “dough” than their actual get-rich-quick caper.
Your assignment: Construct a plot in any genre in which a plan to break the law is unexpectedly overshadowed by something that is both positive and legal. Identify the main characters in the storyline along with their motivations, and compose a one-page film synopsis.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 26 books, 128 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.